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Linocuts 101 


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Linocuts 101 

Written By: Donna Barger 


• Linoleum block (1) 
/ like the Battleship lino. 

Pencil (1) 

Permanent marker (1) 

Drawing paper (1) 

Carbon paper (1) 

Cutting handle and blades (1) 

Speedball makes a variety of handles especially for linocutting. 

Print making paper (1) 

Plain newsprint (1) 

Acetate or Mylar (1) 

X-Acto knifed) 

Metal ruler (1) 

Baren (1) 

or a wooden spoon. 

Brayer (1) 

Relief ink (1) 

Mat board (1) 

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Linocuts 101 


Glass or acrylic palette (1) 

Paper towels (1) 
for cleanup. 

Baby oil (1) 

Bench hook (1) 


Linoleum printing is a form of relief printing, one of the easiest and most direct of all the 
printmaking methods. Linocuts can be simplistic and graphic, or as intricately detailed as 
you want. It's a subtractive process, meaning you cut away, or subtract, the areas you do 
not want to print. They can be printed onto almost any type of paper or fabric. You can print 
on top of painted or silk-screened backgrounds, or you can use watercolor paints or colored 
pencils to hand-color the print after it has dried. 

When printing with a soft block of linoleum the edges will round a bit, giving a softer look to 
your image. Softer linoleums also reduce the number of prints you can pull before the block 
starts to deteriorate. The harder linoleums allow a lot of detail, but they are more difficult to 
cut. They also hold up to a longer print run. I like to use battleship linoleum because it is firm 
enough to allow for good detail but soft enough that it won't strain my hand to carve it. You 
can soften it slightly by using a heating pad underneath it while carving. 

There are several different types of linoleum you can use for linocuts, each with its own 
characteristics. Linoleum is typically 1" thick and comes either unmounted with a canvas 
backing or mounted onto a block of wood. You can buy it from art supply companies or your 
local arts and crafts store. The softer varieties are easier to carve but they won't hold as 
much detail as the harder blocks. 

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Linocuts 101 

Plan out your design and get it onto the linoleum block in preparation for carving. Keep in 
mind that your image will print in reverse, so if you use any type in your design you'll need 
to reverse it on the plate. 

You can draw directly onto the linoleum or you can use a transfer method. If you decide to 
draw right onto the linoleum, start by sketching with pencil and then use a permanent 
marker to go over your lines and fill in the areas that will print. 

Carbon Method: To transfer a design, sketch it onto a piece of drawing paper, cut it down 
to the final size and tape it, hinge style, to one side of the linoleum. Slide a sheet of carbon 
paper underneath your drawing, face down, and then use a ballpoint pen or hard pencil to 
trace over your drawing. Be careful not to press too hard; if you're using very soft linoleum 
you could inadvertently leave indents where you don't want them. Once you have the 
outlines transferred, remove the carbon paper and the drawing and use a permanent 
marker to fill in the areas that will print. 

Toner Method: You can also use a toner transfer method if you want to print your design 
from your computer. This will not work with an inkjet print, only a laser print. Place the 
laser-printed design facedown onto the linoleum, and using a cotton ball, wet the back of 
the paper with acetone or Bestine solvent. Lightly burnish the back of the paper for a few 
seconds and then gently peel it back from the block. Keep in mind that you need to work in 
a well-ventilated area if you use this method. 

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Linocuts 101 

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Linocuts 101 

This is my favorite part — carving the block! Using a Speedball handle and the 
accompanying blades, you can now carve out any part of the design that will not print, 
thereby showing white, or the color of the paper. 

There are many different types of blades available depending on the look you want, but I 
generally use only two blades, the #1 and the #3. The #1 is good for detail work and the #3 
is good for clearing out large white areas. Crosshatching or varying the thickness of your 
lines can create gray areas. 

As you're carving, be mindful of the direction of your strokes. Some edges will inevitably 
be sticking up, which will create interesting line effects in the white areas. These carving 
lines are part of your design, so you'll get a better look by working them in coherent 

You can also make interesting marks and patterns on the linoleum by sanding the surface 
or marring it with various tools. After you've finished carving the plate, be sure to 
thoroughly clean off any stray pieces of linoleum. These little bits and pieces can stick to 
your brayer or your printable areas and leave unwanted white spots when you print. 

Note: Always cut away from yourself when carving and don't put your opposite hand in 
front of the blade when you're holding the linoleum in place. A good device to help with 
safe carving is a bench hook, which gives you leverage by providing an edge to hook onto 
the table and an edge against which to brace the linoleum. 

Holding the tool is usually a matter of personal preference, and after some time spent 
carving you'll discover what works best for you with the least amount of strain on your 
hand. I recommend that you start by holding the carving tool as you would a pencil. This 
will give you more control when cutting, especially for flowing curvy lines. You may want to 
switch to an overhand grip when clearing out large areas or cutting very deeply. 

You don't have to carve very deeply at all. The linoleum will hold very light delicate lines 
just barely incised into the surface. You can use the deeper cuts for thicker, more 
expressive lines, or when you are clearing out an area that does not print. 

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Linocuts 101 

Next you'll want to prepare your paper before getting the ink ready. You can print on any 
type of paper, but for this example we're going to use BFK Rives archival printmaking 
paper because it has a smooth absorbent surface that holds the ink well. It's also heavy 
enough to hold up to any additional work you want to do on the print afterwards, such as 
adding color with pencils or watercolors. 

Measure the size of your design and add at least 4" to the height and width to give yourself 
a 2" border on all sides. You can cut the edges with an X-Acto knife and a metal 
straightedge, or hand-deckle the edges by tearing the paper to the correct size. 

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Linocuts 101 

• You can print multicolor linocuts by using separate plates for each color, or by using a 
gradated ink roll. For this project, however, we'll print with one color. You'll need a piece of 
glass or acrylic on which to roll out your ink. 

• You can use either water-based or oil-based inks. The advantage to water-based inks is 
that they clean up easily without the use of solvents, but they do tend to dry faster, which 
can be bad if you're doing a longer print run. I prefer Daniel Smith oil-based relief ink 
because it provides better coverage and won't dissolve if I decide to use watercolors on 
the print afterwards. Baby oil is a safe, nontoxic way to clean up oil-based inks. 

• Use a putty knife to spread 2 or 3 lines of ink onto the palette at a width slightly wider than 
your brayer. This is what you'll use to charge or ink your brayer. Use your brayer to roll 
out the ink into an evenly coated rectangle. You don't need to apply pressure when doing 
this. Just let the weight of the brayer do the work. 

• Keep rolling it out until you get an orange-peel effect in the surface of the ink. If you have 
too much ink on your palette, you'll get smears when you're rolling and you'll see globs of 
ink on the brayer instead of a nice even coating. 

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Linocuts 101 

Once the brayer is fully charged with ink you can roll it onto the linoleum. It will take 
several passes to get the linoleum plate fully covered. You'll need to charge the brayer 
several times during this initial inking. You want to find that happy medium of good 
coverage, but not too much ink. 

You can try a test print on newsprint or another inexpensive paper if you'd like to test your 
ink coverage. 

A really hard brayer will roll the ink right on top of the surface of the plate. A softer brayer 
will squish down slightly into some of the carved out areas and will deposit ink on more 
than one level. I use a softer brayer because I like some of the line work in the white areas 
to get inked. 

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Linocuts 101 

Hopefully your hands are still ink-free at this point, but if not, be sure to wipe them off 
before grabbing a sheet of paper. Use an L-shaped piece of mat board to align your paper 

Once the paper is in place on top of the linoleum, carefully burnish it up to all the edges of 
the plate. The paper will be lightly held in place by the ink. You can use a printmaker's 
baren, a spoon, or even just your hand for burnishing. You just need something that will 
slide smoothly and evenly across the surface of the paper without catching, tearing, or 
denting your paper. If you're having problems getting the spoon or baren to slide properly, 
use a thin sheet of Mylar or acetate on top of the paper. 

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Linocuts 101 

Once you've finished burnishing, carefully peel back the paper from the plate. At this point 
you can evaluate your image and decide if it needs more carving. If this is the case, 
simply clean off the ink, cut the areas that need work, and repeat the printing process to 
get another proof. 

If you are happy with the outcome, you can continue to pull prints by re-inking the plate for 
each new print. You don't need to clean the plate off in between prints. Lay out the prints to 
dry on clean newsprint, being careful not to let them overlap. If you're using the oil-based 
ink, it could take 2 days or more for the print to dry completely. If you don't have room to 
leave them sitting out, let them dry for an hour or so and then stack them with sheets of 
plain newsprint in between each print for the remainder of the drying time. You're done! 

This project first appeared in CRAFT Volume 02 pages 134-140, 

This document was last generated on 201 2-1 0-30 04:58:25 PM. 

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